The Entrepreneur Podcast
The Entrepreneur Podcast

Episode · 1 year ago

18. Mobilizing networks and community building is key for women’s venture creation

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Mona Sabet is a technology sector deal maker, an entrepreneur, a diversity advocate, and a community builder.

With over 20 years of experience in driving inorganic growth for technology businesses from startup to public company, Mona has cultivated an expertise in formulating, structuring and negotiating strategic initiatives that power corporate growth. She has negotiated hundreds of technology deals and nearly 50 acquisitions from $10M to $500M in valuation.

Mona joins Ivey professor Janice Byrne to talk about challenges women entrepreneurs still face in the world of startups, the importance of community and networks, and what men and women need to do better to bring balance to entrepreneurship.

Ee listening to the Imoncmener fodcastBi Tocar, IM wor institute PRONC Fernership at the Ain Business School.In this series I be member Jeniperan Wol anchor te session, okay, so Mona. I am delighted to haveyou hear at me today and you have an extremely impressive professionaltrajectory. I have to say a quick look at your profile on on linctnrlike,impressive qualifications. You have a background in law and engineering.You've had many rich and varied work. Experiences and you've got a whole lotof the whole host of accolades from a truly diverse set of people with whomyou've worked. People referring to dynamic, eloquent amazing accomplishedyou've been called an ogtstanding leader strategy, Jist Entreprenurcommunity builder. You really have an impressive resume and before we kind ofget into the meat, I guess of f some of the things that you're activelyinvolved in right. Now, I guess I'd love to know so. You're, apparentlyoriginally from Lake Tillsenburg, just down the road here from USINION loadand you've ended up in California. So h. How did that happen? Well, my parents,werethey retired, both doctors and they moved around a lot. Taking these twoyear, locums in different different cities, and so we moved to Canada whenI was perhaps eight years old lived in Winnipeg uhhuh Newfoundland finallymoved to Ontario and then settled Intilsenburg, which is pretty muchwhere most people who move to Canada will eventually want to settle intoright Y A, and so I guess I got a little bit of the moving bug and me asa result of that and when I graduated from High School, I went to theUniversity of Trono, for, as you said, engineering then came to western Um anddid my law degree here worked in Toronto for a little bit and then feltthe need to sort of explore more yeah? U So after I worked in Troto, I decidedto move out to Calgary worked there for a few years and then moved made my way,all the way to Vancouver worked there for five years really following, Iwould say, start up tech. So I couldn't have even told you that I knew thatthis was my passion back then, but it just sort of drew me when I graduatedand was working in Toronto. I was working with large banks and very largeinstitutions. Tawgre at the time was start up land, and so I was justattracted to that and then after having lived in Calgary for a while Vancouverwas. This was back when Vancouver was really starting to come into the texhstart up world, and so there ere really intrusting opportunities to work withTEX startups. There biotuck also YEAC than although I had a very small littleperiod of time where, as involved in by attack- and so that's what drew me toall those different places and then after working in Vancouver for fiveyears. I guess I must ae Loe the West Coast enough and it was nineteen.Ninety nine and the opportunities in...

California were just. It was the bubbletimes Yeh Fifty Fam. It was shocking. I I thought, when I moved to California,that I was just it wasn't really going to be a new country. It didn't feellike the United States was really that much different from Canada, but it wasa culture shock for me yeah, especially moving right in the middle of theInternet bubble. I thought I would be there for maybe two or three years, butI've been there for twenty grace life. Is I what happens whenwe're busy making plans right? We don't always know where we're going to end uptotally yeah two things that really strike me. In particular, when I lookat Yourbio, is your open unrelentless support, I guess for nurturing womendiversity and your parallel emphasis on on delivering value in business andtechnology. So, given your background, given seuflishe my research interests-and I guess the current economicand social climate that we operate in today,I'd love to talk to you more today about your thoughts and experiences ofsupporting women Anfen in intact. One of my favorite subjects grace we're in the right place, so brilliant.Okay, so I guess s a long tradition of f. If we talk about telicon valty startup like Thi Lon tradition of O male dominance there in Silichon, ballystartups and the venture capital scene as well. I guess I'd love to know. Youknow w. We research houses that women outernors are at a disadvantagerelative to t to man when it comes to garnering funs, connecting temantorsand role models accessing networks w. What are your thoughts and experiences?UNWOMENO, ONS NTAC, I mean the statistics definitely show that and I'mmore familiar these days with the? U S, statistics yet yeah I mean thestatistics show that women founded companies get funded to a lesser extentthan all male companies founded companies dothat women founded companies, don't grow as large as mallfounded companiesdo, and you know when you get faced with all of these statistics, and I askmen Thos. Sometimes you have to ask one of two questions. I mean there's onlytwo things that you can believe. You either believe that women just aren'tas good or you believe that there's a bias in the system somewhere andobviously I don't believe that women in as good so there is a bias in thesystem. I think I've been thinking about this for a long time and, as yousaid, I've been involved in building organizations and communities focusedon women and women professionals and women in teck. For a long time- and Ithink that at the core of it also when I think about my experience as abusiness person and on the business side with business development and allthe things that I've been, you know working on as part of my professionallife. What I think this stems from is that business isactually about relationships, and so we often go to school and we learn a lotof technical skills, and perhaps we graduate believing that we're buildingbusinesses based on our technical...

...skills and as long as we built thetechnical thing. You know everything else, sort of fits in place sore it'shard. But it's mostly about the technical thing, and I think, whenyou've been around for long enough, you start realizing that, just likeanything else, businesses about relationships and that's fine, exceptfor the fact that relationships in business are largely mal dominatedhistorically, and so women haven't built up those strategicnetwork relationships to the same extent that men have and that might bechanging. But the majority of power s still consolidated within the men whohave built up these strategic relationships. Sure, and so how doesthis translate? It translates intwo if you're looking for funding, let's sayyou're a woman m who has started a company and you decide you're lookingfor funding. If you don't have those close relationships with thunders, then you're going in cold and trying toconvince someone to invest in you and no matter what investors say. They arepeople too, and they tend to invest at least a fair bit of their decisionmaking is based on who they're investing in a if they know that personover there who happens to be a guy and they don't know you, then they ten tobe swayed to invest more towards. You know the person that they know and theyfeel ffamiliar with. If you really want to get into you know,gental research, it's you know, ingroup bias versus outgroup bias and so thosekinds of things all pile up, in my opinion, to limit a woman, founder'sability to be able to do the same things as men can do with the same product oreven maybe even better products, not just imfesting. I mean findingcustomers the same thing. I've seen amazing work done by very talented men. I meanI don't want to undertell how talented they are in being able to do this sure,but who are able to be able to make connections with potential customersand very significant strategic roles in the kinds of companies that they needto sell into and be able to get that meeting because of a relationship andif women just don't have the same tentacles into those strategic buyers.It's just harder and there's a lot of, I think cognitive biases that also get in theway on top of the fact that you know you're starting from a disadvantage. Sowhen you talk about those cognitive,...

Bibiases, you're talking me thecogonivices that women themselves may have, or the cognitive biases of others,I think cognitive by it says of humans. M Studies have shown that you knows men have biases with respectto women. Studies have also shown that women have biases with respect to women,so I just think it's a human thing Ye. In fact, I've often said to people thatif this was a matriarchy instead of a Patriarchy and women held all the powerin the world, there's a good chance that we would have the same bias astowards men as men do today. So I I don't think it's amale female thing. I think it's a human thing yeah and we just have to be awareof it and start working towards being mindful enough to change it. Yeah Yeah so in in terms of U T inlessen to yourresponsible respect. To? U Know if the Research Ala said that that women areon disavanted in terms of Guarn, garnering phones and also in terms ofconnecting to an AC accessing networks. For you,these two things a are essentially a are linked. Tr, there's, a strong linkbetween the two yeah. My perspective is that there is a very strong linguibetween networks, relationships and business sure. So I share your thoughtson that and you have obviously seen this Al soin terms of your experience and the the community building that you're involvedin, I imagine stems from from this conviction that you that you have sohow do we? How do we and how have you gone about tackling this w? What can wedo to change it? Well, I think that there's there's a number of things. Ijust sort of tend to split how to think about this Anotoo separatem things oneis there are things that women can do to play in this sandbox in a differentway, and since this is e sandbox that we have to play in, we can chooseeither not to play or to play on the way the sandbox is currentlyconstructed y and then there's a thing we can do totry and make society just more aware of the value of being a little moremeritacratic and a little less, you know, biased lack up a better word. SoI think that some of the things that there was a point about two or threeyears ago when I was actively focused on this area and focused particularlyon why women aren't getting funded to the same extent as men, and we did thisvery non statistical survey where we went online and we just searched forany start up that had a woman cofounder who that hadn't raised a series a yet-and this was in the United States. So most of it was U S, research and wefound maybe about three hundred or so it was just completely random. Hey.Where can I find anything on? The web wasn't trying to go in one particulardirection or another, and then we...

...categorized the three hundred that wefound and what we found out is that over seventy five percent, I don't thiswas a whileback. So I don't have the exact numbers off the top of my head,but over seventy five percent of those businesses were focused on beauty,fashion, education, Early Childhood Education specifically and a few ofthem on women's health mm, and so one of the things t at that does. Sothese are all prototypically female focus topics and one of the thing the effects of that isyou've got to look at those industries and say well are those kinds ofindustries that get lots of funding or not Y, and by and large they're, notyet in today's world. Yet where we are right now in our current hypercycle.These are not the industries where a ton of the money goes towards and so tothe extent that women start up companies and businesses in for reallylack of a better word. prototypically female focused, you know, topicssurethat, aren't necessarily very well funded. It makes a ton of sense thatyou're not seeing a lot of funding going to womenled businesses yeah. Soif we want to play in larger funding rounds, we should look towards thinking aboutbusinesses that are in different spheres, and you know these women, when you lookin their background, they're engineers, they're scientists, they have likebackgrounds and artificial intelligence and they're using AI to create bettermake up, and so it's not like they don't have a lot of deep technicalskill in innovation. We are just choosing to apply it into industries that arguably aren't fundedto the same extent as some other industries are D, so that I thinkthat's one thing that we can think about. As you know, we built the nextgeneration of women entrepreneurs trying to encourage us to think aboutinvesting our time and our business acumen in areas that that the worlddemands more of, I guess yeah. It makes me think of that. It comes back to yourpoint of the two options right so that we can play we can play in the sounbox.That's there like or or we can, redesign the sand box, and I guess itspeaks to a lot of also there's, there's C current thinking. You know sowe had the kind of the lean end idea that you know which puts a lot of theresponsibility on the woman herself and what she needs to do, and s also thethinking of that you can change the way so t you change the way you network,you change the way you do things. You know, research. Looking at how womennetwork and men went network, how we use those stronger, weak ties that thatare available and that are important to...

ECR an oternorship. I suppose what I'mthinking about is this notion of OK? Well, if, if we say Wel, maybe we needto stop talking so much about what women need to do and I want to get Baand I do want to get back to that. But I've got a whole bunch better. When Ineed an get a, what can? What can? How can we change or modify the existingsystem? What concrete things can we do to t to change that yeah and that'sreally the much harder question, and I think that that's why you see a lot offocus on what women should do to fit within the current sandbox, because tochange you know, human habits is a much harder thing. I read a studythat said that in the United States, maybe a couple of years ago or threeyears ago, corporte America spent eight billion dollars on UM anti bias.Training with you know, the study suggested nothing to show for it at theend of the day. So obviously that's not working y. So when I talk about this, Italk about m a the end of the day. If we're trying to change how peopleinteract with each other so that we're getting rid of it is a biaseddiscussion. Yeah, that's what it yes! So when I think about- and I talk aboutthat- I try and remove it from a gender orientation, and I try and talk aboutit more in terms of just that. This is you knowh. This is how the human brain works, and if this is how the human brainworks,how can we be aware of that and start consciously using our newo quartux toto change how we're thinking yea for the benefit not just of gender changes?So an example of this is that in business engineers and sells, people ina company tend to go ahead to head on a lot of things. They just you know d.The sales people complain Aboue the product and development teams, all thetime and the product and development teams complain about the sales teamsall the time. Lik they don't speak the same language lust, be at the samelanguage and there's that can create some serious strife in companies. Itactually can limit growth. If you don't address this right, sre. Well, when youthink about the personality types and I'm again, you have to opengeneralize.When you talk about things like Thas, the overgeneralized personality typesof someone n product involpement versus the overgeneralized personality type ofsomeone in sales, you can see that there's a lot of cognitive bias goingon between those two groups and if you start to peel back that onion and makeit at the you know, forefront of their thinking about the reason that you arenot getting along with that person is because they approach things adifferent way than you do and you to see them in a different way. Then yousee the person next to you, who's, just...

...like you yeah. But if everybody wasjust like you, we wouldn't sell any products or we wouldn't build anyproducts, because you need both kinds of personalities to make this businessa success. That starts opening a dialogue between those two groups, andif you talk about that in business, then it becomes much easier and lessdefensive. I think toalso then start talking about it in terms of gender asa second step sureand. So it's all the same underlying issues, but I think thereason why a billion dollars has been futally spent in corporate America ndiversities. Training is because we start with gender, and that puts men insort of a position of defensiveness from the beginning when, if we startwith something else and then draw the analogy and connect them to gender,then I th NK it opens us up for a different kind of discussion. Sure an I think in terms of the positivethings that you have done, respect to t advancing women and nurturing womensupporting women. I think that's, I think, that's extremely. I think it'sone thing that that really strikes me as I saidf from from looking aresume. Iguess, can you tell us a little bit about where that came from and whatexactly you do to kind of promote women sure? Well, I think I'llstart, maybe with the most recent UM organization that I've built up so I'veI've built probably two or three women's focused business typeorganizations over the course of my career. The latest one is an executivewoman's group. We call it high power, it started an M Silkan valley and we'restarting to slowly expand into other geographies now m. But I love tellingthe story about how this came about. So I'll. Tell you the story about how thiscame about. It started the Ahamoment that I had was. I was Um at a start upmyself. It was, you know not too bad sized start up. We had justdone a series a round, so we were flying high. We had our newboardmembers, they were beses, they were men. They were everything that if you wantedto paint what you imagine about the Silken balleys, they were exactly likethat and we were looking at a potential small acquisition, and so we broughtthat to the board and we presented it and they approved the acquisition. Andthen I got asked by one of the board members. He sat back in his chair andwere on a potcast. So you can't see me the odions can't see me, but imagine mesitting back in my chair. My arms stretched out wide. My legs crossed myhead thrown back. You know like I'm, taking up maximum space and in my deepbooming voice, I say well, who are we going to use for outside council foremine counsel for this acquisition and...

I think to myself: Gee. That's not avery bored level strategic question to ask, but you are my bord member. I needto respond and I tell them who our outside law firm is, and you know theircredentials and he says- and I swear this is exactly word forward. We shoulduse Jimmy Jimmy is the best emina lawyer in the valley. So we you have togo, find Jimmy and in the back of my mind I'm thinking Jeez. You know I meanwe're a small little company, that's buying a smaller little company and I'mnot quite sure I need the best emenelaer in the valley, and I wenthome and I thought about this and what I realized was. I can't thinkof many times when I've heard a person in power who has control say in a room.I think we should use best, and I don't know where Beth works right now, butBeth is the best at x, and so we should use her, but I do hear that about men.So what I came to think about is that we women,I mean, I know no shortage of brilliant women who are incredibly successful intheir careers but were tied to the title and the company that that's wherewe draw our authority from and as soon as we leave that title or that companyeverybody that wanted to talk to us no longer wants to talk to us oreverything that is about us is tied up to the title and men don't againovergeneralizing. Not all men are like that. There's a lot more men that Ihear about who are just tied to what they are known for and not, and it doesn't matter thisthis board member did not know where this Jimmy Guy worked right. Now hejust knew that Jimmy had to be the guy right and that's probably from a deeprelationship back to the relationship. The issue that we talked about earlier-I mean you know, nobody's kidding themselves, they're they go golfing orsomething. That is the connection, but he's obviously close enough to want tobring him on board, but not close enough to know where he worksyeah. Weneed women to step up and become more aware ofbuilding a brand around who they are and what they are personally known forand less reliance on the titles and the companies that define their brand.Essentially and that's when I thought we need a different kindof executive women's group, a group that is focussed on making sure thatwe're all challenging each other to do that and invest in our own sells,rather than invest in continuing to be excellent at the work we do in the company itself, because that'show you build the relationships and that's how you start becoming referreto when you're, not there in the...

...boardroom and regardless of whether youstill have that one job or not, and that's how I think we start buildingout a different kind of paradime for women in business. I think that'sfascinating and I think what I hear in that, though, is two things correct meif I'm wrong o Misinterpenen, but the power of that is not only in Safaris,saying, okay, ask women to step up and build your own brand, the things thatyou can do, but I'm also hearing, I guess the community aspect, Afd thesolidarity aspect in sofors when we bail this community. I become aware ofthose others who are really good in this area and when I'm in the room andsomebody asks who can be, I can recommend somebody that that isabsolutely so. There's two parts of this high power organization, one part,is focused on us changing how we play in the sandbox ye by focusing on beingknown for something specific Inan of ourselves, but the other part of it iscontinuing to build an incredibly strong network of women who perhapsthink differently from other professional women in that weresolidly focused on being aware of who else is in this network and what elsewe can do for each other so that more and more people are known for thatthing. So community has been a big part andcommunity building has been a big part of how I have spent over the years. Thinking aboutsolving this diversity challenge Ye. I think that there are Um reallyimportant roles for women's groups to play as we're trying to level theplaying field, and I know that there's a lot of backlash on that, because thenthere's you know well how about people with five cats groups. We should havethose- and you know everything else and that's fine, too. I also think thatit's important to be able to play in a broader group of people and you have toknow how to interact and navigate that, but there's in a world where you'realways in the minority having a group of people who again are like you getyou, you know still that ingroup thing, but then support you and make you feellike you've got that extra bit to be able to go forward is priceless, and byand large people who are in the majority have that defacto M m. Sowe're just trying to replicate that sure sure going on from that. I guess t you in this kind of sphere or community ofwomen that that you create in this community that you build. I guess wecan have informal mentors or R R role models that we come that that we meetwhen we're in this type of environment. What wt? Often in the women's when wetalk about women on O proors o when we talk about women and management Ardender issues we talk about this need for more mentors of need for for Morrole models. What is your feeling on...

...that? What is your experience of that?I have tried to either create or be part of mentoring organizations, foryou know a few decades, and it just doesn't seem to move the needle enoughfor me for me to have stuck with it. So I don't know yet how to loveragementoring to significantly change Um Genderin, the Entrepreneurshipan in thetech world. What I do believe, and one of the things that I think we talkabout a lot in the women's groups that I'm involved in is that women need tostart recommending other women much more actively than they do today. So Idon't think that that's mentoring, it's very different. My experience is that a man andbusiness in a you know, powerful possession might have a kid on a soccerteam and his buddy on the soccer team's father is looking to sell his companyand the man, because their kids play soccer suddenly starts introducing himto his ce O friend, who might want to buy that company and there's nothing more than that in thedepths of the relationship, except for they all like travel in the samecircles, and- and you know they know that what comes around goes aroundwomen. On the other hand, my experiences that you could be like veryclose friends but you're still not quite sure, if you're the best personout there for this particular Oll that imeths know your friend is looking for,and you are very tentative about recommending other women and obviouslyit's hard, it's harder for men to recommend women sometimes, and so, ifwomen aren't going to recommend women and men aren't going to generallyrecommend women, then women aren't being recommended. So I move away frommentorship and into this thing of we have to start stepping up andrecommending each other for whether it's jobs or business opportunities,ideally business opportunities, ideally, connections to funding. You know,connections to customers, there's a bunch of women's organizations thatI've been to where they have these networking events and they'll say upfront by the way. This is a networking event. It's not please don't come andstart looking for business that'll make people feel uncomfortable and, likeit's a networking event, the whole purpose of the networking event is tolook for business. So if I'm not allowed to look for business here, Idon't know that this is where I should be yeah. So we've got to change thatmentality. Also, I hear Hin what you're saying isthat if we build up a community because I could be in a position where iuldbeafraid to recommend somebody else, if I don't know them sufficiently, becausethere is going to be some backlash on that, if it turns out to not work outright. But I guess if we go W, your mothe idea is that if we have acommunity and if we're in interaction...

...with each other on a regular basis- orat least we have countered o each other- that we we kN, we have better knowledgeof each other Han. What we can and can do so that we have more confedence whenwe recommend or when we sponsor others. I think that that's possible. I preferto build a community where we say we will just recommend Oyeah and yeah sure. In order to get into thiscommunity, there was probably some sort of minimum criteria to get there, butlet's just go out on a Lim and do it. Let's just go out on them. You know,there's not really a lot of backlash, an my experience when men haverecommended men that haven't worked out well, and I think that we're just alittle too worried about that. I think it's okay yeah in terms of because you've beeninvolved, you've been in silicon bally in this world and Busi women in Business and technology. For the last ten years, have you seenan evolution? Have you for you? Do you see things going changing or going in to write the rightdirection or stalling? Or what is your personal feeling hem? I mean it's beena long time M. so, yes, I have seen an evolution, I'm glad because it has beena long time. There are more funds now dedicated to funding women compared toyou know. Twenty years ago, when I, when I came to Silken Valley Y, and sothat's good news- There's not the next growth stage for us is to have fundsthat spend larger amounts of dollars on women led businesses right now. Thedollars still are fairly small, Yembut, that's better than it was before, andso I'm hopeful there's a California law that got past, which is creating allkinds of strife that says that m public boards are going to have to have femaledirectors and not has inanticipation of that has led to a lot of even private boards, starting torealize that they have to put some females on the board and that, I think,is personally obviously I think it's very good for a number of reasons, notthe least of which is just gender parody, but uh you're, starting to see it not being Okto just have a group of anything that all looks the same of any sort of thesame. I've even seen some all women led companies that are saying well, that'snot right either we need to it works both ways. So I am seeing Um a lot ofdifferent thinking as a result, and sometimes the behavior h has to happenafter the forced regulatory change right. But then it does happen. Yeahyeah, absolutely it's a trigger exactly yeah, I'm. Finally, one question to ask: Idon't know if this a challengeing question but began p from a selfashpoint of view for professors in a business school likeIvy Business School m. They should all...

...be women back okiding WWHAT, what Sh LD? Whatshould we do? What what can we do for the women and the program or forour students in general? If we want to change the the landscape as it currently stands interms of maybe women and women in technology and diversity in general andimproving the landscape? What what should we be doing, or what can we bedoing? I was involved in a really what I thought was a very inovative programat the University of Brerkley and they had what was it. It was Um like a apitch session or a pitch, but they got people together, th the students andthey the first hour I got to present was explained cognitive byas and thenthey broke out into groups and the groups had to come up with a businessplan or a product idea that would actually sell in the marketplace. Thatwould help reduce bias and increased diversity, and it was a combination ofmen and women, and so it was really interestingbecause when they both started working together to create a real business thathappened to have this as the goal of the business and they presented. Theyonly had three hours to come up with a high level pitch and they present andand CR come up with five or six slides, and then they presented it to Um apanel of judges at the end and they picked a winner and they've got money.The ideas that came out of tha were largely real businesses that operatedtoday, some of which were funded. So they were good ideas, really goodideas, but more than anything else, I just thought it was a really unique wayof engaging men in the conversation and thinking about it from a businessperspective rather than just a social perspective. That was the mostinnovative. I think thing that I've seen yeah that might help and a way toget everybody on board and everybody going in the same direction like yeahcool brilant. Thank you very much. It's been a serious pleasure to talk to youand to hear your ideas. I think we could probably talk all day. Yes, as I said, one of my favorite Sebtos,but I thank you very much for inviting thank you. You've been listening to the IVIONMENor potcast to ensure that you never miss an episode subscribe to the showand your favorite podcast player, or visit ivy dot ca forward, slashentrcrenership! Thank you so much for listening until next time.

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